Plastic Surgery: An Ugly Trend This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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Society has always valued beauty. In literature, ­attractiveness often symbolizes an admirable protagonist, while ugliness indicates the abominable antagonist. As children we are taught, without even realizing it, to prize beauty. People of every race and culture have gone to extremes in the name of beauty – from foot-binding in China, to dangerously constricting corsets in Victorian times, to nose jobs in 800 B.C. India. While plastic surgery has been around since ancient times, it has only recently become accepted by the masses.

Television programs that promote plastic surgery – “I Want a Famous Face” on MTV, “The Swan” on Fox, “Extreme Makeover” on ABC, “Nip/ Tuck” on FX, and “Dr. 90210” on E – expose the public to a business once kept under wraps. Reality television embraces the topic due to its shock ­value – however, the public is becoming more and more accustomed to the idea of plastic surgery.

Not only have these programs created a generation that isn’t fazed by images of blood, Botox, or bandages. Sometime during the process of beautifying average humans, they have implanted something besides silicone: the belief that cosmetic surgery will improve lives. Now, not only do people accept plastic surgery, they embrace it as a solution to personal and professional problems. While appearance has always been important, mainstream acceptance of plastic surgery has created a society that values appearance over ability.

According to Drs. Iva Sorta-Bilajac and Amir Muzur, rhinoplasty developed in ancient India due to the practice of nose mutilation as a form of public punishment for immoral conduct. Therefore, the connection between an unattractive nose and an immoral being was deeply rooted in this society. While the nose is not a vital ­organ, it is exposed to everyone’s view and has ­become a symbol of integrity as well as an important ­aspect of ­human beauty.

Only a couple of decades ago it was considered taboo to admit having “work” done, and it was not ­unusual for patients to take extreme measures – sneaking into doctors’ offices through the back door, or using fake names – to hide the fact. As noted in the New York Times article “The Doctor Will See You, and Your Party, Now” by Anna Bahney, more patients became interested in procedures after seeing them on TV and researching them online. Currently, plastic ­surgery is so commonplace that instead of scheduling secretive meetings, ­patients often bring parents, siblings, spouses, or friends to consultations.

According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, nearly 11.5 million cosmetic surgical and nonsurgical procedures were performed in the U.S. in 2005. On the website The Medical Tourism Guide, readers are told, “Plastic or cosmetic surgery can help to boost confidence and vitality. In the case of cosmetic surgery, think of this procedure as an overhaul, much like you’d add that new roof or coat of paint to a car.” Some of the appeal lies in the way it is promoted, like statements that market surgery as a confidence-booster.

Our reality television shows are modern fairy tales. They all use a common formula: take an average, unhappy individual, alter her appearance, and after a surgical transformation she is magically a success. While the message is the same, there is one difference: these aren’t fictional characters, they’re real people.

The confidence that comes from a new nose, fake breasts, or liposuction is only temporary – physically (many procedures are not permanent and need to be repeated) as well as emotionally. Often, patients’ insecurities about their appearance are symptoms of underlying psychological issues, such as depression, and may be temporarily alleviated by surgery. But this temporary confidence is nothing in comparison to the confidence one can obtain by excelling in sports, academics, or a hobby. Marketing cosmetic surgery as a confidence-booster increases profits, but it also gives people unrealistic expectations. They believe that their life will change and are disappointed when it doesn’t.

After undergoing plastic surgery, many people finally feel accepted. By transforming into an ideal beauty, they earn the approval of others and receive positive attention. Some people even have “coming-out parties.” But while plastic surgery may appear to increase confidence, it’s often an illusion –
even to the patients themselves, who might confuse real self-esteem with the joy of feeling as though others approve of their appearance.

Psychologist David Sarwer believes the acceptance of plastic surgery goes beyond vanity: “We’ve become ­increasingly accepting of ways of changing our bodies. We’re much more comfortable with our bodies as malleable.” People have always altered their bodies, mainly through diet or ­exercise, so it’s no surprise that many view themselves as changeable. But what causes someone to want to alter his or her body? We all seek approval – from parents, spouses, children, coworkers, and friends. Even if it’s a subconscious desire, everyone wants to be deemed acceptable. Plastic surgery can gain the approval of others, but why should you care about the opinion of people who don’t see you for who you are on the inside?

Parents often pressure their children to do well academically, but with plastic surgery becoming so accepted, some parents are pressuring their children to have cosmetic work. Children as young as six are undergoing minor procedures, and 13-year-olds are having nose jobs. Doctors and parents who support these surgeries claim that the child understands. However, it’s more probable that she realizes her parents want her to change, and is willing to comply.

Some people feel pressured by their spouse to remain youthful or become more ­attractive. According to Donna Henderson-King, author of “Acceptance of cosmetic surgery: scale development and validation,” many women “desire to meet social expectations of beauty. Women are socialized to see themselves as objects to be looked at, and consequently view themselves from the perspective of others.” In this study, King found that the more shame women felt about not having met socially defined standards of beauty, the more likely they were to accept cosmetic surgery.

Plastic surgery constantly appears in pop culture. Many celebrities have had cosmetic surgery, and the American public is constantly exposed to images of these altered humans. In a Mike Williams cartoon, two women scrutinizing Rembrandt’s self portrait say, “You’d think that if he’d been that successful he would have had his nose fixed.” This is a perfect example of society’s belief that attractiveness is a necessary part of success. Rembrandt is a renowned artist, but the women in the cartoon are not discussing his artistic ability; they’re critiquing his appearance. Our society blatantly values appearance over ability.

This acceptance of plastic surgery, as well as the value of appearance over ability, affects youth. From a young age, children play with toys like Barbie dolls and burly action figures, with bodies that are physically impossible to achieve. Exposure to these “ideals” is damaging to the self-esteem of youths.

People have always wanted to look like society’s ideal. In the late 19th century, Irish immigrants in New York got “English” noses to transform themselves into Americans. The ideal ­appearance in society is always based on the appearance of the dominant group.

With so much importance placed on appearance, other attributes often come second. Young people are learning that they should aim to be beautiful instead of intelligent. It’s even a common practice for parents to reward high school graduates with nose jobs, breast ­implants, or liposuction. But is cos­metic surgery an appropriate reward for years of hard work and academic achievement?

In American culture, the mold of an “attractive” person is getting smaller and less forgiving of any differences. “The assembly-line look ultimately damages the notion of personal identity. We are in danger of doing something unthinkable, which is making beauty boring,” according to Dr. Nancy Etcoff. In a cartoon by Dave Carpenter, two men tell a stranger, “No, we’re not related. We just have the same plastic surgeon.” This pokes fun at the tendency for plastic surgery patients to appear generic afterward. However, there is some truth to this. On reality makeover shows, the subjects come out looking eerily alike.

Cosmetic surgery is no longer limited to the wealthy; banks offer loans for it. As plastic surgery becomes more mainstream, it’s interesting to ponder whether the value of beauty will ­decrease as it becomes something that anyone can buy.

Vanity in our culture has increased and become more acceptable. People are more open about their desire to be attractive, and plastic surgery no longer has a negative connotation. However, America is also the most medicated ­nation on earth. Ten percent of our population take antidepressants. It’s obvious that these surgeries are not ­really making us happier. Rather, they delay the process of some individuals seeking the necessary psychological help. Even the young aren’t immune to depression. More children than ever are developing eating disorders and poor self-esteem.

Happiness can be achieved, but not through surgery. People need to ­embrace their differences instead of trying to erase them. Only when we are at peace with ourselves will we be ­truly radiant.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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This article has 161 comments. Post your own now!

ShadowThief13 said...
Mar. 11, 2010 at 5:02 pm
I think people should stop making themselves fake! People are willing to inject POISON into themselves just to "enhance" their image! (shakes head sadly)
BasketballChick5 said...
Mar. 11, 2010 at 7:41 am
i don't know what to think but this was agood artical but people do what they want no days.....if they don't like what they see in the mirror they go do something crazy!!! I would never get sosmetic surgrey is expensive and painul. But people do it all the time so!
junglegym7 said...
Feb. 17, 2010 at 1:29 pm
I think 'the cosmetic surgery' is like a cell-phone. It already became a huge part of our society so we can't remove it anymore. We all know the cell-phones are not really good for us, but we need those. As our society trend changes, a lot of things appear and disappear. Nowadays, our society choose people who have not only high intelligence but also good appearances. It's true that everyone actually judges people by their appearances at least a bit. People in our society are... (more »)
Discover This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Feb. 17, 2010 at 11:57 pm
I'm not sure I agree with the cell phone analogy. Eventually, cell phones will be replaced by high tech holograms and what not in the future, so if you apply this idea, plastic surgery, no matter how long it takes to replace, will find itself out of trend sooner or later.
blahblahblah replied...
Mar. 13, 2010 at 3:08 pm
I aggre with you!!!!!!!!
junglegym7 replied...
Mar. 13, 2010 at 10:05 pm
yeah. we never know plastic surgery would be replaced by new tech version of surgery or totally out of trend. If we say cell phones will be replaced by high tech, we can also say plastic surgery will be more developed by high tech. Which means, there'd be more various kinds of plastic surgery with high tech. Even though the cell phone analogy doesn't quite go well with the plastic surgery thing, we all know it's a part of our society and we can't get rid of it. We all judge p... (more »)
blahblahblah said...
Jan. 26, 2010 at 8:50 pm
Thats not even right. Take this for example if you had a huge zit on your fore head. Would'nt you want to fix it?? Or if you smelt bad wouldnt you want to take a shower to fix that problem? Well if your uncomertable with your looks wouldnt you want to fix it??
xAllegria replied...
Feb. 17, 2010 at 1:01 am
Well, there IS a difference between using soap and going through an operation.
I mean, these things are mainly for hygiene. But when it comes to looks...
adristar96 replied...
Feb. 17, 2010 at 3:41 pm
you don't need surgery to look attractive. You can exercise and eat right and in no time you can become the way you want to look and still be unique. Oh and by the way the serum for botox is poison i repeat POISON if you want to kill your nerve cells go right ahead but if you want to keep them then don't use botox
HOT-P!NK replied...
Mar. 11, 2010 at 4:09 pm
u need to embrace your inner beauty instead of wanting to change everything in surgery.. i think the most beautiful people are the ones who DONT get plastic surgery cause the name says it all PLASTIC!!!! so if u wanna look like barbie go right ahead.
blahblahblah replied...
Mar. 13, 2010 at 3:11 pm
why is it wrong to fix you flaws? tell me and thats when I'll aggre with you but until then my mind is set
adristar96 replied...
Mar. 13, 2010 at 6:08 pm
we already told you why. ur flaws is what makes you unique. if you want to be a barbie like hot pink said then go do it. Your gonna waste money for no reason because in ten years you'll have to do the procedure all over again..
blahblahblah replied...
Mar. 14, 2010 at 12:38 pm
well I think if youuhave the money and you want too why dont you?
its not like its sinster or evil to want your self to look good. Now, I do abmit that some ppl go over board w/ the plastic surgrey. And thats not right but ppl DO judge ppl on looks nnowA days
Phantom_Girl This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Sept. 25, 2010 at 5:41 pm
Of course people should do what they want with their money, but I think the point is that they shouldn't have to resort to operations just to boost confidence. If it weren't for how much our society puts on looks, people would be able to feel confident without dangorous surgeries.
ElectroMagneticPulse replied...
Feb. 26, 2011 at 2:39 pm

I can't get my head around how someone would want to change their appearance so much they resort to surgery. People change how they look because they're concerned about how other people think about them - proof of our twisted society. Why don't we all work on accepting differences rather than crushing them?

The world is turning into a hoard of Barbie dolls and the proof of it is all the tons of paper-thin actors who at first glance may look great, but are really unhealthy and almost st... (more »)

misslove replied...
Mar. 20, 2011 at 6:29 pm
your right. we should honor and love what we have.
mads942 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jan. 26, 2010 at 5:44 pm
Wow! That was really interesting and well structured.
J. Rae said...
Jan. 4, 2010 at 8:56 pm
I believe that everybody is beautiful the way they were created and plastic surgery has blinded people so bad that they can't even see that. I read a book called the Uglies and it scared me to think that that could be our future. Have you read it? It's set in the future and everybody is made to think that they're ugly and at 16 they do a mandatory surgery that scrapes and reshapes they're bodies so that they look prettier.
Andrea C. replied...
Jan. 26, 2010 at 8:03 pm
I read that series too. It was really freaky to think, What if that actually happens to us? And I think that plastic surgery is way too extreme. If you are overweight, diet and exercise would work. Take care of your skin to avoid "needing" a facelift later in life. It's a good thing to not look exactly like everyone else, and what gives you REAL confidence is looking in the mirror and telling yourself you look fabulous, big nose, freckles and all.
J. Rae replied...
Jan. 26, 2010 at 8:34 pm
That is exactly right! I look in the mirror every morning and tell myself I have beautiful eyes and name all of the positive things about my body. It works! People just are so worried about looking bad. The real cure for this is friends that say positive things about you. It's amazing what words can do.
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